This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of June 17, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of June 17, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
Kermit Gosnell is an abortion doctor recently sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of three infants who were born alive at his abortion clinic in Philadelphia. There was a good deal of consternation among media people about their handling of the story at the time, but Capitol Hill stayed fairly muted.
That changes this coming week when the Republican House brings up H.R. 1797, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill would impose a nationwide ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It’s a response—if slightly tardy—to the Gosnell trial.
The sponsor of the bill is Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), and a huuuuge list of fellow Republicans, plus a few Democrats. (The bill’s page has a list of all the sponsors. Check to see if your representative is on there.)
And that’s kind of the point.
The bill is mostly a pitch to Republicans for support from their conservative base. It sure isn’t going to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. (There is a Senate version, brought to you by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)). And, if by some miracle it did pass the Senate, President Obama would veto it.
As often is the case with issues like this, it’s about politics. It’s about Republicans making clear where they are and Democrats where they are so both parties can raise funds and seek votes from their bases. All well and good, though it’s certainly unfortunate to see rough-and-tumble politics handle this sensitive moral, ethical, and medical matter.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of June 10, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
Most representatives and senators will be figuring out this week what they think about the massive domestic surveillance program revealed through leaked documents reported in the Guardian last week.
They’re sitting on the sidelines, listening to the advocates on both sides, and they’ll come forward when they see which way the wind is blowing strongest.
Oh—you know who else they’ll be listening to? You. …and we don’t mean listening in on your calls. You have to phone them.
The number for the Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121.
You can call right now. (Look up your member of Congress and senators here!) And say your piece.
The story continues to unfold, but it’s fairly clear that the government is requiring all the major telephone companies to turn over data about every call made in the United States or from within the United States to a foreign country. That data isn’t the content of your conversations, but the date and time of the call, who called who, how long each call continued, and the location of the callers. Washingtonian magazine national security writer Shane Harris says that this data “can be more useful than the words spoken on the phone call.”
There were other releases last week. One showed that the National Security Agency has a program called “PRISM,” which accesses information from major Internet service providers, including Microsoft, Apple, Google and Yahoo!. A third showed that President Obama has ordered cyberattack plans to be drawn up. The leaker of the information came forward on Sunday. He’s Edward Snowden, who until recently worked for a contractor to the NSA.
Defenders of the call collection program point out that it is authorized by law. Congress permitted it under the USA-PATRIOT Act. A secret court approves the collection of this data, and Congress reauthorized that secret court just last December—you can see the votes on the page for the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012. And they say there are many protections in place to appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties. Abuses like those that surfaced in the IRS scandal won’t happen with this information.
There are many more dimensions to the debate, but chances are you already know what you think. Your job is to make up your representatives’ minds. They can’t know what you think unless they hear from you. Make that call now. That call will go on your permanent record, but it’s probably worth it.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of June 3, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
It’s not a conspiracy, but you’d think it was, the way the major media avoid reporting on some of the most important work the Congress does: spending.
Each year Congress spends enough money to buy every American family a new car. Every year it goes almost unnoticed.
After the president sends his budget to Congress, and after Congress passes its budget (or fails to agree on one—here’s the deal for this year), appropriations bills start to move. “Appropriations” is a fancy word for spending.
Two approps bills have started through the process in the House: One, the Military Construction/Veterans bill, and the other, Homeland Security approps.
The Mil Con/Vets bill is H.R. 2216, officially known as the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2014. The bill would spend about $1,480 per U.S. family on construction projects for the military and on veterans’ benefits. It’s sponsored by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX). He’s the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that handles this spending.
You wouldn’t know that the bill existed to watch the news. But that’s just the news failing to report on something that is too complex to elicit too much interest from the average news consumer. But here’s something that might pique your interest: $1,480 dollars of your money.
The other spending bill that has begun making its way through the process is H.R. 2217, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2014. Its sponsor is Rep. John Carter (R-TX), chairman of the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee. (The Texans seem to have reached seniority on appropriations…)
The bill funds the department that everyone loves to hate, the Department of Homeland Security. And it spends about $450 per U.S. family on the DHS—$450 of your money.
There is a lot of complexity to these bills. They are hundreds of pages long, and they have endless instructions about what money goes where and how it will be used. Some of the provisions of these bills will be controversial and there will be a little debate about them.
But for the most part these bills move each year, year over year, with little notice. Until the transparency of Congress improves, all we can do is report on the aggregate numbers and let you do your thing.
Your thing is letting your representatives know what you think and encouraging your friends and neighbors to learn what’s going on and say their piece as well.
Here are the current votes on the two bills. Click to vote, comment, learn more, and edit the wiki articles about them.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of May 27, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
Last week, the Senate debated its farm bill, S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013. It was introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
It’s a “reauthorization” bill. Everything the government does is supposed to be authorized by law, and authorizations sometimes expire. Reauthorization is the time when Congress considers again the scope and direction of existing programs. Reauthorization also establishes authority to spend for a number of years.
And spend this bill does. Direct spending stemming from the programs authorized and reauthorized in S. 954 would total $955 billion over the 2014-2023 period. That’s just under $7,750 per U.S. family or about $2,500 per person.
Most of your grocery bill is what you pay at the grocery store. But some of it you pay in taxes. It goes to farmers and other players in the agriculture industry in various ways—also to federal bureaucrats.
The House has its own farm bill. That’s H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) is its sponsor. He’s the chair of the House Committee on Agriculture.
Much is made of the differences between Democrats and Republicans, and the farm bill debate will be no exception. Charges that Democrats are over-spending on unnecessary programs will be matched by arguments that Republicans are slashing the essential.
Well, in the aggregate, those barbs don’t have much sting. Ten-year spending authorized by H.R. 1947 would total $940 billion. That’s about $7,630 per family and $2,440 per person. The Republican House’s farm bill spends about 1.6% less than the Democratic Senate.
The tale of two farm bills? It’s not one of partisan difference. It’s agreement. The small differences of emphasis among the two bills will keep things interesting for people who care about the nitty-gritty details, but overall the table is set for a large farm bill coming out of Congress.
Here are the current votes on S. 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 and H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki articles about the bills.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of May 20, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
D.C. was rocked last week by the news that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had targeted certain conservative groups for closer scrutiny when they applied for non-profit status. Hearings got underway quickly, and they are sure to continue.
A number of bills were introduced. Wakerider bills, we like to call them, because they surf the news. But surf’s up! So let’s see what is in the hopper.
H.R. 1950 is called the Taxpayer Nondiscrimination & Protection Act of 2013. Introduced by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), it would create criminal penalties for “misconduct against taxpayers by Internal Revenue Service employees,” such as violating their First Amendment rights.
H.R. 2025 would require the termination of IRS employees for discriminating against any taxpayer on the basis of political affiliation. It was introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) with one cosponsor, fellow Arizonan Rep. Matt Salmon (R).
Then, of course, there was the news that the IRS official in charge of the office reviewing tax-exempt organizations for part of the time that it was allegedly doing partisan reviews is now in charge of the office implementing Obamacare. It’s a gift to Republicans, who had already scheduled a vote to repeal Obamacare last week.
New bills emphasizing this theme include:
H.R. 1993, which would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from hiring new employees to enforce “the Federal Government’s invasion into the health care lives of American citizens.” It’s the brainchild of Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA).
Similar bill H.R. 2022 would prohibit the implementation or enforcement of any requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act until certifications are made that taxpayer information is not and will not be used for targeting any individual or group that provides information to the Internal Revenue Service for political reasons or on the basis of political views. The bill’s sponsor is Rep. Diane Black (R) from Tennessee.
Senators are generally more circumspect, but there are a couple of bills inspired by the IRS scandal in the Senate.
And there’s S. 962. The bill would go after the funding of Obamacare, prohibiting “amounts made available by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 from being transferred to the Internal Revenue Service for implementation of such Acts.” The author of this bill is Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), along with a quartet of cosponsors: Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).
Senator Rubio has a bill of his own in this area. S. 941 would “prevent discriminatory misconduct against taxpayers” by Federal officers and employees. The text is not available, but it’s an amendment to the criminal code, so it’s likely a lot like H.R. 1950—fines and potential jail time for rogue IRS employees.
Scandal wakes up D.C.!
Things certainly were interesting over the past week. The IRS is not one of the government’s most beloved agencies, and the implication that it worked to throw the last election is electric for Beltway media and politicians.
Expect much more in this area during the weeks and months to come…